In many operating regimes, exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) while maintaining MBT spark timing improves cycle efficiency in SI engines. As the level of exhaust dilution is increased, the flame speed is reduced and the combustion rate is impaired. This leads to a drop in fuel economy as EGR rates are increased beyond the optimal level. To take advantage of the efficiency benefit of EGR without incurring the penalties of late combustion, a sensor which detects late combustion is tested. The signal from an ionization sensor placed near the exhaust port has been found to correlate to combustion which continues late into the expansion stroke. It may be possible to use the output from the ion sensor to maintain the EGR at the the optimum for fuel economy.